And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.” (9:2–5)
The blind man’s condition created a theological dilemma in the minds of the disciples. The question they posed, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” assumed the popular Jewish doctrine that anyone’s physical suffering is the direct result of personal sin. Therefore they saw only two possible explanations for his condition: either the sins of this man or those of his parents had caused his blindness.
But the man, having been born blind, could not have been responsible for his condition unless he had somehow sinned before he was born. Perhaps the disciples considered that a possibility, since the view that children could sin while still in the womb was widespread in contemporary Judaism. In addition, some Hellenistic Jews, influenced by Greek philosophy, argued for the soul’s preexistence. Therefore, they believed people could be punished in this life for sins they committed in a previous existence. (The Bible, of course, rejects such views.) On the other hand, if the man’s parents were responsible, it hardly seems fair that their child should be punished for their sin.
The disciples’ reasoning, although not completely illogical, was based on a false premise. Certainly, it is true that suffering in general is ultimately a result of sin in general. And it is also true that a specific illness can sometimes be the direct consequence of a specific sin. Miriam, for example, was stricken with leprosy for rebelling against Moses’ authority (Num. 12:10). Jesus had earlier warned the man He healed at the pool of Bethesda, “Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you” (John 5:14). The apostle Paul likewise told the Corinthians, who were partaking of the Lord’s supper in an unworthy manner, “Many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep” (1 Cor. 11:30).
Tragically, there are also times when children are forced to suffer the natural consequences of their parents’ sinful choices. For example, the eyes of babies born to women who have gonorrhea can become infected when they pass through the birth canal. If the babies’ eyes are not treated medically after birth, blindness can result. A baby’s health can also be negatively affected by the mothers’ smoking, excessive drinking, or substance abuse during pregnancy.
The disciples may also have been thinking of certain Old Testament passages in which God seems to promise punishment on children for the sins of their parents. In Exodus 20:5 God said to Israel, “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me.” Exodus 34:7 repeats the warning that God “will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations” (cf. Num. 14:18; Deut. 5:9).
Such passages, however, must be understood in a national or societal sense. The point is that the corrupting effect of a wicked generation seeps into subsequent generations. This is axiomatic, an obvious reality. The idea that a child will be punished for the sins of his own parents is a concept foreign to Scripture. Deuteronomy 24:16 commands, “Fathers shall not be put to death for their sons, nor shall sons be put to death for their fathers; everyone shall be put to death for his own sin” (cf. 2 Chron. 25:4). Through Jeremiah God declared, “In those days they will not say again, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ But everyone will die for his own iniquity; each man who eats the sour grapes, his teeth will be set on edge” (Jer. 31:29–30). Ezekiel 18:20 adds, “The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself.”
Subsequent generations (“to the third and fourth” [Ex. 34:7]) of children, however, have suffered the consequences of a previous generation’s disobedience. The Hebrew children of the Exodus, for example, suffered through forty years of wilderness wandering because of the sins of their parents’ generation. Centuries later, when the northern and southern kingdoms were carried off into captivity, generations of children suffered for the sins of their elders.
Jesus’ reply, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him,” exposed the error in the disciples’ thinking. There is not always a direct link between suffering and personal sin. When Job’s would-be counselors rested their case for his suffering on this wrong assumption, they caused him needless misery (cf. Job 13:1–13; 16:1–4) and ultimately received a rebuke from God (42:7). On another occasion, Jesus taught that neither those Galileans whom Pilate slaughtered in the temple nor those killed when the tower in Siloam fell on them (Luke 13:1–5) suffered those deadly effects because they were particularly vile sinners—as His audience had smugly assumed. Instead, the Lord used those two incidents to warn His hearers that all sinners, including them, face death, and when it comes would perish unless they repented and trusted in Him.
The truth was that like Job (Job 1, 2), the blind man was afflicted so that the works of God might be displayed in him. But as F. F. Bruce notes,
This does not mean that God deliberately caused the child to be born blind in order that, after many years, his glory should be displayed in the removal of the blindness; to think so would again be an aspersion on the character of God. It does mean that God overruled the disaster of the child’s blindness so that, when the child grew to manhood, he might, by recovering his sight, see the glory of God in the face of Christ, and others, seeing this work of God, might turn to the true Light of the World. (The Gospel of John [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994], 209)
God sovereignly chose to use this man’s affliction for His own glory.
Having addressed their misunderstanding and introduced the matter of doing God’s work, Jesus affirmed it as the priority, saying to the disciples, “We must work the works of Him who sent Me.” Their focus was backward, on analyzing how the blind man came to be in his condition; the Lord’s concern was forward, on putting God’s power on display for the man’s benefit. As noted in the discussion of 4:4 in chapter 11 of this volume, John frequently used the verb dei (must) to describe Jesus’ active fulfillment of the mission given Him by the Father (cf. 3:14; 10:16; 12:34; 20:9). Here the plural pronoun we includes the disciples, who also were empowered to do the works of the Father who sent Jesus.
The phrase as long as it is day conveys a sense of urgency (cf. 7:33; 11:9–10; 12:35; 13:33). It refers to the brief time (only a few months remained until the crucifixion) that Jesus would still be physically present with the disciples. After that, He said, “Night is coming when no one can work”—a reference to His being taken away from the disciples in death. They would then be overtaken by the darkness (cf. 12:35) and unable to work (cf. 20:19; Matt. 26:56) until the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost once again empowered them to minister.
But while Jesus was still in the world, He was the Light of the world. The Lord, of course, did not cease to be the Light of the world after His death, since He carried on His ministry through the disciples (Matt. 28:18–20). Yet that Light shone most clearly and brightly during His earthly ministry. What Jesus told the disciples applies to all believers. They are to serve God with a sense of urgency, “making the most of [their] time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:16; cf. Col. 4:5). The noble Puritan pastor Richard Baxter captured that sense of urgency when he wrote, “I preached as never sure to preach again, and as a dying man to dying men” (cited in I. D. E. Thomas, A Puritan Golden Treasury [Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1977], 223). 
Jesus, the Worker
“As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.”
The subject of the following study is work, particularly Christian work. And the example for that work is none other than that great worker, the Lord Jesus Christ. In the words we are studying he speaks about his work and gives direction to our own. The text is the fourth verse of John 9: “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.”
To understand the force of this text we must take it in the context of the chapter, for it follows upon a speculative question that had been asked of Jesus by the disciples. The group had come upon a man who had been blind from birth, and the disciples had asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” In other words, the disciples (who had not yet learned to look on men as Christ looked on them, as people to be loved) saw the man as a philosophical problem, and they were at once ready to debate it. Suffering is related to sin, they reasoned. The man is suffering; therefore sin is involved. So, whose sin is it? This was the line of their thinking.
To Jesus, however, the man was above all a man and, more than that, one on whom he had compassion. So instead of entering deeply into their question—he could have written a book about it—he answered them briefly, while at the same time setting about to heal the man born blind. It is in this connection that he spoke of his work, stressing that he must be about it. He added that the night was coming when no man could work.
We are to learn from this, as Spurgeon said, that “the Savior has a greater respect for work than he has for speculation.” Questions are good. There are answers to such questions. Jesus gives them. But there is an eternity to ask and answer questions. What counts now is to work, for the working time is limited and the workers are few. God had sent Jesus to work. He was determined to do that work. If you are a Christian, God has also given you work to do. The conclusion is that you should set about doing that work with the same determination.
A Need to Work
The verse itself is most instructive, however, and the first thought it brings before our minds is the necessity of working. This is indicated by the first phrase, in which Jesus said, “We must do the work.”
The necessity of working is something that is found throughout Christ’s ministry, and it is related to the will of God for him. Indeed, it is almost a leit motiv of Christ’s teaching. The earliest recorded utterance of Jesus makes this point. His parents had taken him to Jerusalem for the Passover when he was twelve years old, and when they left to return to Nazareth Jesus stayed behind in the temple. Joseph and Mary thought he was with the others in their company. When they discovered he was missing, they went back to Jerusalem and, after much searching, found him. He was discussing doctrine with the leaders of the people. “Son, why have you treated us like this?” asked his mother.
Jesus replied, “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49).
Years later Jesus began his public ministry and, early in that ministry, came to Capernaum. In Capernaum he cast out demons and healed Peter’s mother-in-law who was sick with a fever. As a result of these miracles, many in Capernaum and the area around it urged him to remain with them. But Jesus answered, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent” (Luke 4:43). In other words, he felt the divine necessity to work in his preaching.
On another occasion a short man named Zacchaeus climbed a tree in order to see Jesus as the crowd in which Jesus was walking passed by. Jesus knew the need of this man’s heart and soul. So he stopped at the tree, looked up, and said to the man; “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5).
Jesus referred to the lifting up of the brass serpent in the wilderness in speaking to Nicodemus, saying, “Even so must the Son of man be lifted up” (John 3:14). He said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day raised to life” (Luke 9:22). Later he told his disciples, “Other sheep I have, that are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd” (John 10:16). From the beginning of his ministry to the end, Jesus felt a necessity of obedience to the will of God to be resting upon him.
There is another reason why Jesus felt compelled to work. The first was obedience to the will of God. The second, which is no less important, is the need of men. In John 8 we read about Jesus being driven out of the temple area. We would feel it to be all right if we found Jesus thinking primarily about his own needs and problems. But he is not. For as soon as he is outside the temple area, by the very gate of the temple, he spots a blind beggar and is immediately taken up with his need and problems. The heart of the Lord Jesus Christ went out to him. Moreover, it was always this way with Jesus. Wherever he looked there were sheep to be gathered and souls to be won. So he worked; the need of men compelled him to it.
It is no different today. Today the need is also great. Men and women are perishing in our time without the gospel and without Christ. They fill our cities and our countryside. There are the poor, the lonely, the outcasts of our society. The need is there. Who will reach them? Will you? Do you feel that you must work? Jesus felt it and, as a result, was a blessing to all who knew him. What have we done to be a blessing to those who are in need?
A third source of the necessity that Jesus felt to work was undoubtedly the love for others that filled him. Jesus loved others; hence, he had to go out of his way to work for them.
Do we love others? Or do we see them only as problems, as the disciples saw the man who had been born blind? Do we love others enough to help them? Or do we merely give lectures? There is an illustration of what ought to be done in Christ’s story of the loving father and the prodigal son. The son had taken his share of the father’s inheritance and had gone off to another country where he had wasted it on low living. When it was gone he returned home and found his father waiting. He said, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” The father said—well, what did the father say? Or, to make it more personal, what might we have said had we been the father? Is it not true that we would have been ready first of all to give lectures and to ask questions? “Where have you been?” we might have asked. “What have you been doing? What happened to your good clothes? And where is your money? Don’t you know that you have wasted it all, and that it was half of my estate? Waste is not good. You have not played the role of a good steward, even less that of a faithful and loving son. What are we to do with you? What could you possibly expect to receive from me now?” These are the questions and comments we might have made, but this was not the course taken by the father. Instead, he threw his arms about the neck of his son and kissed him—he knew it all anyway, you see—and said, “Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:22–24).
The story is given to show the love of God the Father and of the Lord Jesus Christ for sinners, and it should be our pattern. Is the man or woman who is steeped in sin repulsive to you? His sin is no less repulsive to the Lord Jesus. Jesus loves him anyway, even to the point of having died in his place. This love should move us. The love of the Lord Jesus Christ should constrain us. It should constrain us to work for the other person’s salvation.
There is a second lesson that comes from Christ’s words about work. It is the specialized nature of the work, which Jesus indicates by the next phrase in the sentence. “I must do the work of him who sent me.” It was the work of God (and only that) that Jesus felt compelled to do, while it was yet day.
There are many people who can take the first part of this verse and say with great honesty and enthusiasm, “I must work.” But there are few who can say, “I must do the work of him who sent me.” Take as an example a man who is determined to get ahead in business. He rises early in order to get to the office before most of the other employees. He puts in a long day, skipping coffee breaks, even having his lunch sent in to him. After the others leave, he stays; it is late when he finally starts home. At night he is thinking about his business and planning for the next day. What time and what skill he puts into getting ahead in his work! How strong is his desire! It is a proper desire, of course. If a man wants to get on in the world, he must work. Hard work is good for a person. We would never want to encourage any active man to be idle. And yet—this is the point—Jesus came into the world not to get ahead in business or to get rich, but rather to do the work of him who sent him. It was upon this that he set his desire and bent every activity.
Do we apply the same discipline and enthusiasm that we have in other areas of our lives to the work of God?
Moreover, notice that Jesus was not selective in the works he felt compelled to accomplish. He did not pick and choose. Rather, he said, “We must do the work of him who sent me.” That is, “We must do all of them.” There were works of preaching and of praying, of rebuking and of suffering, finally, even of dying. But whatever they were and whether they were either personally appealing or unappealing—we remember that in the Garden of Gethsemane he sweat as it were great drops of blood as his soul shrank in horror from the spiritual suffering of the cross—Jesus determined to do all of them. Have we? Or have we pulled back from that which is distasteful? There is no doubt that much Christian work remains undone simply because of this: that all Christians have not yet learned that each believer is personally to do the works—all the works—of him who sent him.
Shortness of Time
Third, Christ’s words about work also teach us about a limitation of the time allotted to work and, therefore, also about time’s shortness. Jesus indicated this by saying, “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me.”
These words are striking in the mouth of the Lord Jesus Christ, much more so than if they had been spoken by any mere man or woman. Christ is the timeless God. He lived in eternity past and will be living throughout eternity future. If anyone could have postponed work, surely it was the Lord Jesus. Yet we see him concerned for the moment and aware that the moment was passing. If that is true for Jesus, how much more true is it for us who are entirely creatures of time and for whom time is quickly passing!
Time is passing for ourselves, first of all. We are here today, studying our Bibles, listening to a radio broadcast. But there is not an ounce of assurance that we will be here tomorrow. Death may come. At the very least sickness may be upon us, and the opportunities for service that we have today may be over. Or, again, even if we remain in good health, the time of opportunity may pass for the one to whom we should be bringing the gospel or whom we should be serving.
Are you a preacher? If so, you will not preach to that same congregation for long. Some will die this year, more the next. What are you waiting for? What hinders you from preaching the full counsels of God with all the depth, maturity, and enthusiasm of which you are capable? Richard Baxter once said, “I preach as though I ne’er might preach again, and as a dying man to dying men.” That should be your standard.
Are you a Sunday school teacher? If you are, the principle applies to you also. You will not have your children long. You have them for a little less than sixty minutes a week and for less than a year. What will you teach them in that time? What will they learn? For some it may be the only time in their lives in which they will have opportunity to hear about God’s love for them in Christ and of his great plans for them. For some it may be the only time in which they will have an opportunity to memorize Scripture.
Are you a mother or a father? Then these truths are for you also. Now is the time to train your children. You must begin while they are young. You will not have them for more than twenty years, and they will be malleable to your teaching for even less than that. You must lead them to faith in the Savior. You must teach them the ways of God with men and help them to develop Christian character. God will not hold you guiltless if you fail to do this; for you are responsible for them, and the time is passing. In this as in other areas “night is coming, when no one can work.”
The Night, the Night
Finally, and as a result of this last phase, we must consider the end of things historically. True, there is an end of life for each of us, for those to whom we witness and for ourselves. But it is also true that the night comes in history, so that opportunities for work that a particular age offers can be ended. Today there are great opportunities. How long will they last? Who knows but that a new dark age may soon be upon us?
In an address given on the occasion of his installation as Visiting Professor of Theology at Eastern Baptist Seminary in Philadelphia, Dr. Carl F. H. Henry spoke of the frightening rise of a new barbarianism in our age. “The barbarians are coming,” said Henry, as he likened today’s onrush of paganism to the barbarian conquest of Christian Rome. They are coming in science, through the misuse of new discoveries. They are coming in communications, as men discover ways to manipulate public opinion for bad ends. They are coming in the religious realm, as institutional Christianity increasingly gives way to the occult, the cults, and Satanism. “Obscure the vitalities of revealed religion,” said Henry, “detour churchgoers from piety and saintliness, and in the so-called enlightened nations not only will the multitudes soon relapse to a retrograde morality, but churchgoers will live in Corinthian immorality, churchmen will encourage situational ethics, and the line between the Christian and the worldling will scarce be found.”
The night is coming. Jesus said it is coming, and we can sense that it is so. But this is not all we can say. The night is coming? Yes! But Jesus is also coming. And so, the barbarians do not have the future to themselves. The Lord is returning to judge the barbarism and receive his own. One day we must stand before him. That is our hope. We rejoice! At the same time we recognize that it is also a day of reckoning. Have we worked for Jesus? Have we invested those talents that he has given us? God grant that we may and that one day we may hear him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). John 1–11 (pp. 391–394). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Boice, J. M. (2005). The Gospel of John: an expositional commentary (pp. 693–698). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.